Wednesday, 16 March 2016

British Science Week: Science in the Archives Wednesday

Earth science and geology forms the backdrop of today’s British Science Week blog as we look at the work of the University of Hull lecturer, George de Boer (1920-2011).


Hull born and raised, George de Boer was an academic with many and varied scientific interests. Physical geography, geology, geomorphology, erosion, climate, biodiversity and nature conservation all formed part of his research into the workings of the natural world. His studies had a strong local focus. Spurn Head and the Holderness coastline were his chosen locations for investigation. Although he also undertook research trips to Norway and to the Lake District region of England.

Map of the Humber and Holderness coastline copied by George de Boer [U DDB/2/2/4]

He attended Cambridge University, although WWII interrupted his studies. At first de Boer enlisted but later came out as a conscientious objector. Following the war and the completion of his degree, de Boer started at the then University College Hull as an assistant lecturer in Geography.

In 1944 he published his first paper, 'A System of Glacier Lakes in the Yorkshire Wolds', and went on to publish many solo and collaborative scientific papers. He received a grant from the Nature Conservancy in 1959 for coastal investigations along the Holderness shoreline. His research culminated in the publication of a paper titled ‘Spurn Head: its history and evolution’ in 1964, followed by many others relating to the area.

Plan of Spurn Head copied by George de Boer [U DDB/2/2/2]

De Boer was involved in many local societies, notably the Spurn Management Committee of which his was Chairman, and the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Trust after its establishment in 1946 (now known as the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust). He was truly committed to his scientific interests and the protection of the local natural environment. At his retirement, the University of Hull inaugurated an annual George de Boer Lecture series in his honour.

Poster advertising one of the annual George de Boer lectures at the University of Hull [U DDB/1/6/4]

His personal and academic papers (held here at Hull History Centre) document his lifelong study of Spurn and the local region laid the foundation for later studies into coastal erosion and protection of wildlife. His interest in Spurn and the protection of its wildlife has meant that future generations can still enjoy this scientifically significant part of the UK coastline.

Claire Weatherall, Assistant Archivist

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